Playing the Part: 12-year-old Westfield student plans for 350 volunteer hours at Conner Prairie

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Julia Lamb serves as a youth volunteer at Conner Prairie. (Photo by Sadie Hunter)

When she was younger, 12-year-old Julia Lamb often persuaded her mom to take her to Conner Prairie. She was particularly interested in the staff and volunteers at the interactive history park who did spinning or made wool into yarn.

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Julia Lamb, right, spins wool into yarn on a spinning wheel. (Submitted photos)

When she turned 10, Julia applied to become a Conner Prairie Youth Volunteer and was one of 23 accepted out of 64 applicants. Now she is in her third year and not considered new anymore. In a few more years, she will be considered a veteran volunteer. She plays characters in both 1836 Prairietown and the Indian Village. She helps with the yearly Headless Horseman event and many other activities.

But being a youth volunteer means more to Julia than her time spent at Conner Prairie. She used her Christmas and birthday money to buy a used $300 spinning wheel so she could spin at home. She purchased deer hide at a festival to make her own moccasins. She’s creating her own sash to pair with her Indian Village costume.

Julia can be a youth volunteer until she goes to college or graduates, and can then become a member of the Conner Prairie staff.

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Julia Lamb pauses with Conner Prairie Presi- dent and CEO Norman Burns, who congratulates her on her volunteer hours.

“I’m going to stay as long as I’m allowed. I can have eight years (total),” she said. “If I could get my dream, I would probably go to Purdue and then come back here. If I go to Purdue, I want to be a (film) director. I also really like history.”

To continue on as a youth volunteer, Julia must volunteer at least 120 hours a year. By volunteering two to three times a week, she plans to more than double that number. Her first year, she reached more than 300 hours. In her second year, she reached 212.

Conner Prairie has 100 youth volunteers, and seven of those attend Westfield Washington Schools. Some volunteers even come from abroad.

“The fact they all want to be here working and learning about history, I think that just totally shapes their attitude toward the program and how much effort they’re willing to put in,” Youth Experience Manager Sarah Morin said. “One thing particularly which is hard for a lot of the younger ones, the 10- and 11-year-olds, is being able to start conversations with guests because those are essentially strangers to them. That takes a lot of gumption, a lot of confidence to be able to do that.

“They (the volunteers) do know some rather obscure skills. For example, about a third of them know how to spin and weave wool. They might learn how to tan a hide. Some of those may influence particular hobbies they do or even career paths.”

Julia’s mom Heather Lamb said from a parent perspective, it’s easy to observe all the things Julia is learning. To even be considered as a youth volunteer, applicants must go through phone and personal interviews. To strengthen her candidacy, Julia wore full pilgrim attire to her interview.

“It’s just amazing the things they teach them and the responsibilities they give them,” Heather said. “We went into reenactment fairs to buy deer hide to make her own moccasins and to get a fire kit, and that sparks a kind of interest not normally found in a 12-year-old.”

Julia knows how to start a fire without a match and which natural remedies can be used for common ailments. She knows how to churn butter and make shrub, a type of lemonade or soda that people drank in the 1800s. Despite all that, Julia thinks the most important thing she’s learned is something more practical.

“Really, my people skills,” she said. “I’ve learned how to talk to people maturely, and I’ve grown up a lot. My knowledge of history, I’ve learned so much, it’s hard to say it all.”

Besides volunteering and school work, Julia, a seventh-grader, keeps busy as a Cadet in Girl Scout Troop 1505.

Conner Prairie opened its outdoor grounds for the season March 28. For more, visit

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An example of the contents in a fire kit.

Julia’s tips: How to start a fire with a fire kit

Starting a fire with charred cloth – Hold a burning glass against a piece of charred cloth. Once the cloth turns red, place in a dry paper towel or pile of leaves and ball it up. Blow on it until smoke begins to come out, then wave the ball around in the air to allow for oxygen flow. Once it bursts into flames, place in kindling.

Starting a fire with flint – By chipping flint against steel, a chemical reaction occurs, which creates a spark.